Psychologists and philosophers will tell you that two powers alone make the entire human race tick, that two motivations determine all actions – Love and fear. Others would call love the life force – the natural inclination to grow and learn, the will to survive and thrive. The only reason to avoid the sheer joy of existance that this force provides is fear – fear of rejection, of failure, of emotional or physical pain, or merely discomfort from the effort that living requires.

The degree to which you allow each of these often-subtle motivations to influence your views and choices controls what your pathway toward perfection will look like. It may even determines whether you will eventually reach perfection or wind up as something vastly different, despite your best intentions.

Love and fear take on many variations that are not immediately recognizable. Fear, for example, doesn’t always feel like fear at all. Your heart doesn’t race. Your blood pressure doesn’t rise. You don’t tremble and sweat and wish someone would turn on the lights. Sometimes fear is your motivator even when you feel perfectly confident, sure that you’re right and justified in your opinions and actions.

“How can that be fear?” you ask. Good question. Fear can be extremely subtle and difficult to recognize. I’ll give you an example, then an alternative in contrast. In the end, you’ll have to judge your own motivations for yourself.

How strongly do you adhere to the Biblical counsel to “avoid the very appearance of evil”? Of course this is great advice, but the reason why you follow it makes all the difference. If you’re worried what people will think of you if you do (or appear to do) something wrong, then your motivation is fear.

The love-based desire to avoid the very appearance of evil, as explained by Paul, is no more than the desire not to let the “appearance of evil” become a stumbling block for those of weak faith and incomplete conversion. Paul explains, in 1 Corinthians 8, that the appearance of evil is nothing, but the influence upon others can be significant:

4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

The love-based desire to avoid the appearance of evil, therefore, consists of an awareness of how your actions might negatively influence those of weaker conversion around you. (This quotation is not about vegetarianism, by the way, but about pagan religious practices. See Footnote 1 if you want to argue about Thessalonians 5:22)

Next, consider how you feel about your opinions and words? Are you ever uncomfortable sharing opinions that differ from those around you? Are you concerned about what they’ll think of you if you depart from “the norm”, or even question it? Once again, fear.

One of the worst things about letting fear act as your motivation is that it can quickly become a habit. It limits your life and, because fear tends to propogate itself around anyone who allows it to stay, it limits the lives of many of the people you interact with.

Fear-based motivation to do right often stems from the misperception that we “earn” our way back into heaven by our actions. In this case, people often feel afraid to commit any error. They focus on the tiny details of life instead of the grand experiences. Their goal becomes to step gingerly through life making as few mistakes as possible rather than taking calculated risks designed to promote the maximum growth and wisdom. If you catch yourself thinking this way, please read the excellent article Finding Joy in Christ.”

Sometimes the best test of whether fear is pushing your buttons and working the levers that run your thoughts, feelings and actions is to look inside your heart and determine whether or not fear’s great opponent, love, is at the controls. To find out, you might ask yourself “Do I care more about the happiness and welfare of everyone involved (yourself included) than about how others will judge me?” Are you willing, even eager, to go against “the norm” when you believe it’s the right or best thing to do? Do you go about your actions without dwelling on how they make you look? If you answer “yes” to these questions, you’re likely motivated primarily by love.

Understanding love as a motivator is not as difficult as identifying the subtleties of fear. Furthermore, we have all been rather clearly instructed in its application. Perhaps Paul expressed it best in 2 Corinthians 13:

1 THOUGH I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

1 John 4:18 also deserves mention here: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” What may never have occured to you is that acting with love doesn’t only cast out your own fear, but fear of others around you as well. Nelson Mandela explains this concept beautifully:

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

Facing your fears and living with love as your motivation is one essential step in your progress toward becoming what my friend Chantal refers to as a “three dimensional” being. A two-dimensional person can never become truly perfect.

A two-dimensional person can do everything “right.” They can know in their mind all the “correct” answers and regurgitate them on demand. They can say all the “right” things and live the picutre-perfect stereotype of a worthy Latter-day Saint. This alone does not make them perfect. If fear is their primary motivation for creating this appearance, then it also inhibits their progression toward true greatness and perfection.

After all, what are the two Great Commandments? “Thou shalt love.” If “pefect love casteth out all fear,” (1 John 4:18, Moroni 8:16) then living with peer pressure as a motivator is indisputable evidence of imperfection.

The third dimension is only reached when true principles are internalized through either pondering or practice. It is only reached when an individual lives with deliberate courage and love. Courage is to the heart what determination is to the mind. Love is to the heart what admiration is to the mind. Consider these scriptures which illustrate the value of developing the heart:

Acts 13:22 …he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.

Doctrine & Covenants 124:15 And again, verily I say unto you, blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me, saith the Lord.

1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

3 Nephi 9:19-20 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

Living two dimensionally is certainly easier. Repeating the “right” answers you were taught in junior Sunday school and avoiding the the mental and emotional effort of carefully considering your motivations and viewpoints allows you to skip confidently through life with few new questions. The strain of applying these principles to a complex world you weren’t prepared to comprehend as a child allows you to “slip through the system” without having to engage your heart.

But it doesn’t bring much joy, or at least not as much as you could enjoy. It doesn’t bring as much warmth to the world where it’s most needed. It leaves you vulnerable to discouragement every time you slip up because your sense of goodness is tied to what you do rather than who you are. Hopefully you at least believe that it’s “right” to be motivated by love and “wrong” to follow fear.

If so, then you also understand the difference between the two common styles of perfection sought for in our culture – the perfect look and the avoidance of error and risk, as opposed to seeking growth and wisdom even at the risk of occassional disapproval.

This truth excuses no one who intentionally chooses wrong in order to grow from such experience. Such an unwise person will be held accountable for the deliberate disobedience. Immorality, harmful drugs and purposefully smashing one’s thumb with a hammer provide difficult lessons best learned by taking someone else’s word for it.

In the end, the choice is yours. Will you continue to allow fear and worry to limit your happiness or will you seek to learn and apply love? Do you seek true perfection because you have some idea of the great joy and freedom it brings, or will you remain content to merely look the part and avoid criticism from your peers?

If you choose love, you choose a challenging but rewarding journey. The first few steps away from fear tend to be the most uncomfortable and terrifying. Once you get the hang of it, however, you’ll find yourself skipping more merrily through life, free to enjoy your developing self, spilling out your light upon everyone you meet.

Footnote 1: This paragraph is for those who now wish to refer me to Thessalonians 5:22 where the actual “abstain from all appearance of evil” phrase appears and argue that we’re commanded to do so. The example set forth above is a much more fitting reference for the topic, not only because it gives clear reasoning regarding the proper motivation, but also because the Colossians reference actually refers to something else. Read the footnote that points out that the word “appearance” in this instance actually means “kinds.” ‘Avoid all kinds of evil.’ Not the same idea at all.

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